GOP seeks criminal records

By David Postman
Seattle Times chief political reporter

OLYMPIA Republicans want a copy of the state's criminal-records database to compare it with the names of the nearly 3 million people who voted in the governor's race, as party attorneys search for felons who cast illegal ballots.

Yesterday, attorneys for Dino Rossi and the Republican Party asked the State Patrol for an electronic copy of that database, the Washington State Identification System. The list contains more than 1.2 million records. Republicans are hoping to do a quicker and less expensive search than what is available to the general public.

The records include names, birth dates, charges and outcomes of the cases, including felonies and some misdemeanors. Republicans are looking for felons because felons are not allowed to vote unless their voting rights have been restored.

The move is part of Rossi's legal challenge to the election of Democrat Christine Gregoire, who was sworn in as governor Wednesday. Rossi, who lost the final recount by 129 votes, filed suit last week in Chelan County Superior Court asking that the election be thrown out and a new one held.

The Republican lawsuit doesn't include any specifics about felons who voted, but it lists them as a potential source of illegal votes. There is evidence that dozens of felons cast votes in Pierce and Snohomish counties. The Building Industry Association of Washington compiled a list of felons on Rossi's behalf, but attorneys want to do a much faster statewide search.

Republicans also included in their case evidence of errors in King County, including an 1,800-vote gap between the number of ballots cast and the list of voters, and 348 mishandled provisional ballots.

Democrats say Republicans are using the lawsuit as a "broad fishing expedition ... to prop up their otherwise unsupported allegations."

That's what attorneys for the state Democratic Party said in papers filed in court Wednesday. They want to curtail Republicans' ability to conduct discovery, or gather evidence, in the case.

If the Democrats succeed, Republicans will be unable to compel state and local officials to produce evidence and witnesses.

Democratic Party attorney Jenny Durkan said searching for felons who voted is the sort of work Republicans should have completed before the lawsuit was filed.

"I find it beyond offensive that exercising your right to vote would trigger any kind of criminal-background check," Durkan said. "If the state did this it'd be a huge violation of civil rights."

Secretary of State Sam Reed's attorneys filed papers opposing Rossi's request that discovery be allowed on an expedited basis, but they didn't claim all discovery should end, as the Democrats did.

"Sam Reed's position is the facts should come out but not on this chaotic, truncated schedule," Reed attorney Thomas Ahearne said.

In papers filed Wednesday, Democratic attorneys said if the court sides with Republicans, it should at least delay discovery until some legal questions are answered. Those include:

Should the election contest be heard by the Legislature instead of the courts?

If it is heard by a court, should the case begin at the state Supreme Court?

Is the new election Republicans want allowed under the state constitution?

"It's a clear attempt to make sure the voters don't find out what happened in this case," Republican attorney Diane Tebelius said.

She said there is already enough evidence to warrant a new election. But, she said, Republicans want more because "We want to lock it up."

The criminal records Republicans want are available to the public on the State Patrol's Web site for $10 a search. But Rossi wants an electronic copy of the database so a computer can search for matches with the list of voters, Rossi attorney Peter Schalestock said. That would save time and money, he said.

State Patrol Capt. Jeff DeVere said the request "is outside our normal business practices" and is being reviewed.

The fight over the pre-trial investigation is just one of many issues that will be argued before Chelan County Judge John Bridges can consider the substance of the case.

Yesterday, attorneys for Benton, Snohomish, Jefferson and Lewis counties filed a request that they be dismissed from the Republican lawsuit, which named all 39 counties.

The papers say Republicans have made no claims against the four counties and they "are not proper parties to this election contest."

There now are so many attorneys representing what by one count is more than 90 parties in the suit that court officials will hold hearings in the Chelan County Auditorium, across the street from the courthouse.

Bridges was assigned the case Wednesday after several counties decided they would ask the original judge, T.W. Small, to recuse himself.

Small had written to all parties in the case outlining his potential conflicts of interest and telling attorneys they could ask him to step down, no questions asked.

Among the conflicts were his wife's donations to the Republican National Committee; his consideration for a federal position; and connections between him and family members to people involved in the case.

The request that he step down came from Franklin County. But attorney Chris Mertens, the county's newly hired outside lawyer, said it came after "communications with lots of counties."

It was not in response to any one conflict listed by Small, Mertens said.

"People felt that he had so many ties to so many parties" that there was the potential for conflicts, Mertens said.

David Postman: 360-943-9882 or



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